By Kim Voynar (original publication date: 1/23/08 -- Sundance Film Festival)
I'm not what I would call a serious fan of the horror genre overall, but I do like smart horror films, and The Broken, by Cashback director Sean Ellis, was a pretty smart film. I've had some arguments the past couple days about Cashback, and while that film has its weaknesses in the story structure, Ellis's strength as a director lies in imaginative visual sequences, a skill he uses to great effect in The Broken.
Gina (Lena Headey) and her boyfriend Stefan (Melvil Poupaud) go to Gina's father's house for a surprise birthday party. Her dad, who works for the US Embassy in London, is nearing retirement. Gina's brother Daniel and his girlfriend Kate show up for the party as well; the party is nice but uneventful, until a large mirror in the dining room suddenly shatters for no apparent reason. The next day, another shattered mirror, and a co-worker asks Gina why she's still at work -- he just saw her leaving the building. Gina doesn't think a lot about this, until a bit later when she sees her Jeep Cherokee being driven down the street -- by herself. Stunned, she follows the car to a building where it turns into a parking garage, and then follows the woman who looks like her upstairs to her apartment. She walks into the apartment, and sees a photograph on a table in the entryway; the photo is of her and her father. Who is this woman who looks like her and has her picture in her apartment?
Next thing you know, Gina is driving her jeep the hell out of there, but she's upset, and she keeps looking at herself in the rearview mirror, as if she's unconvinced of what she's seeing there. In her upset state, she ends up having a nasty head-on collision that totals her car and lands her in the hospital. When she comes to, she's okay except for a mild concussion ... and the minor problem that she's convinced that Stefan is not really Stefan, but some sort of creepy body-double imposter. Thanks to her head injury, though, everyone else is convinced she's just imagining things. Or at least, they're trying awfully hard to convince her of that.
Pretty soon mirrors are shattering all over the place and there are more doppelgangers running amuck. And that's pretty much it ... and yet somehow the tension sustains from start to finish. The storyline is decidedly ambiguous as to what's really going on, but for me, that just made it all the more interesting to try to puzzle it all out. Visually, the film works very well, and the tight editing keeps the suspense cranked up throughout. Headey largely carries the film, and does so quite ably. This is a nice horror film for people like me, who aren't into blood-and-guts slasher flicks so much, but appreciate a well-crafted, suspenseful story, but theres's also more than enough there to satisfy fans of the genre as well.